Monday, February 01, 2016

Designing is Better Than Destroying

We first came across the acronym, CRISPR, almost one year ago. The technology is too powerful and too easy to use that it couldn't stay bottled up, despite the ethical implications.

U.K. Approves First Studies of New Gene Editing Technique CRISPR on Human Embryos: [bold added]
It’s the first time the technology, which has taken the medical world by storm, has been sanctioned for use on human embryos. The team of scientists led by Kathy Niakan, a biologist at Francis Crick Institute, will attempt to edit out bits of DNA that prevent an embryo from developing properly—which may answer important questions about infertility. The embryo would not be allowed to survive beyond 14 days—meaning they wouldn’t be implanted into a woman’s womb and grown into live babies.

“I promise you she has no intention of the embryos ever being put back into a woman for development.”
It's highly unlikely that all scientists--or parents willing to pay big bucks--will be so scrupulous. The ethical issues have been known for some time.
CRISPR raises the notion of designer babies, made-to-order genetic traits and so forth. If CRISPR can successfully change the genome of an embryo, it could forever alter the human gene pool. [snip]

Niakan is using CRISPR to study genes responsible for infertility, but the technology could just as easily be used to dictate which genes an embryo should, or shouldn’t have. It’s relatively straightforward to decide that the gene that causes sickle cell anemia, for example, a devastating blood disorder that requires people to get regular transfusions of healthy blood cells, should be snipped out. But what about a gene involved in short stature? Or grey hair?
Millions of people use online dating sites to select prospects according to physical qualities (e.g., blonde, dancer, pianist), so such screening techniques are familiar. One can break up with a dating partner, however, but not a child.

Expect these designer-baby qualms to be dispensed with quickly; the wealthy and connected will do what they want and easily find justifications for their actions (an embryo is just a bunch of cells that's the woman's property, and besides, designing is better than destroying, right?).

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